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December 12, 2023


Gretchen Rockwell

The Empress

At summer camp, all scuffed knees and
sweaty skin, I loved finding woolly bear
caterpillars. They were brown-and-orange
banded and looked like pipe cleaners, all
bristly and thick. They felt fuzzy under my
fingertips, big against their delicate bodies.
I never saw one turn to tiger moth but knew
they would, in time. I built them twig
shelters, coaxed them to climb onto my
fingers so I could move them off the dirt
paths and into the grass; I nurtured them the
way I nurtured everyone in those days. As
a kid watching Mothra streak across the
screen to defend the Earth against other
monsters, I recognized a kindred spirit. Her
bright colors reminded me of those camp
caterpillars. When typing her name, my
autocorrect alters it to “Mother.” As a
caterpillar, the tiger moth freezes solid over
the winters, surviving that way till the
spring comes. Mothra is reborn again and
again. Surely the thaw will come for me




The Emperor

The end of summer camp was a massive
game of capture-the-flag. We daubed our
faces with white-clay warpaint, tied our
team colors around our waists, scattered to
search for the waving flag of whichever
team we most wanted to win against. Our
counselor with his handprinted face was
our guide, crafting strategy and giving
commands. I know now how young he
must have been, but at the time, he seemed
some golden god.  We hung on his every
word. Victory called with a clarion voice,
soaring on lightning-streaked wings. When
Mothra’s dark twin rose to punish
humanity for its hubris, our champions
tried to convince people to do more to
protect Earth. Battra’s plan was harsh, but
he spoke for Earth itself, and to appease
him we had to listen and obey to make the
best outcome. Looking back on those
summer days, I remember the rush of
running with the flag—the hollering in the
woods—the hope that our hero would be

proud of me.





I feel my pulse pounding in my fingertips;
sweat slides down my temple. I dig my
fingers into a cramped crevice, lean back
into the rope looped through my harness
and feel its weight, the tension in the twined
fiber. Chalk coats my hands, leaving
smudges of white below me, marking my
gradual ascent. I hesitate, then glance
down: I have come so far. The muscles in
my calves are twitching, and my fingers are
starting to slip, but—I am so close. I
continue the climb. My sneaker tips
scrabble for a grip; my hands learn the feel
of grit and granite. At last, I reach the final
piton—reach my hand up and feel where
the rock meets the sky. I want to beat my
chest like King Kong, electrified by
success. A scream rips from my lips, and
the sound of cheering floats up from the
ground. I gulp the air and feel it swell my
lungs. It has never tasted sweeter than in
this moment. The descent remains—but
that’s the easy part. I’ve brought myself this




The Hermit

I watch the crab crawl around its rocky
terrarium. I named it Destoroyah after the
Godzilla monster. It has been my pet since
I was seven. The chill of my apartment
doesn’t seem to bother it, though I am
shuddering under a quilt as the space heater
does nothing. I can’t turn it up for fear of
fire, even as the windows rattle in the wind.
The crab and I have a lot in common: we
are quiet, hide in our shells, enjoy solitude.
As a child, I cradled it in chubby fingers
until I learned that doing so was stressful,
and a stressed crab becomes a sick crab.
After that I didn’t touch Destoroyah
anymore, twisted my fingers every time I
felt the urge and learned to not reach out. I
wrap the quilt tighter. I wonder how long it
would take my crab to die in the wild. I
have given it a good home, I hope, even
though I struggle with mine. I have never
been in love. It has been five weeks since I
called a friend. Claws click against rocks as
breeze bites my cheeks. I wonder if

Destoroyah ever gets lonely.





Summer, 2007. Death no longer waits in the
wings. A life’s detritus remains. This house
is quieter now, though not by much.
Outside is still the frenzy of summer noise:
the rumbling tractor, the buzz of bulky
bees, the dog baying down the road.
Dragonflies dart around the effusive
peonies along the west wall of the house. I
name one of them Veronica and one of
them Megaguirus, watch their bodies dance
midair. A handful of new-picked green
beans in my fist, I pump water from the
spigot into a metal cup. The stream is shot
through with light. The water tastes faintly
of iron, though whether from the cup or the
pipes is impossible to say. I snap a bean
between my teeth, fresh and crisp. My body
is still young. The Rose of Sharon has the
familiar coat of mold, but its flowers are
soft and bright. The fishing rods sit dormant
in the garage. The dragonflies hang in the
sunlight as if suspended in amber. Nothing

will ever be like it was.